Empirical Studies of Human Rights Law

Kevin L. Cope, Cosette D. Creamer, Mila Versteeg

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

2 Scopus citations


A growing body of empirical studies has provided important insights into our understanding of the causes and effects of codified human rights. Yet empirical research has treated human rights treaties and constitutional rights as separate domains, even though the two regimes offer many of the same rights protections and can interact and reinforce each other. In this article, we review these two bodies of literature, focusing on two lines of inquiry: studies that (a) treat rights commitments as the outcome to be explained and (b) examine the consequences of these commitments for state behavior. Some broad insights emerge from these literatures. First, the literatures adopt different orientations to explaining why states commit themselves to legal rights. Second, the effect of both human rights treaties and constitutions is usually small and contingent on certain legal and political environments. This review concludes by synthesizing debates over the most effective methods for measuring rights performance and for gauging causal effects.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)155-182
Number of pages28
JournalAnnual Review of Law and Social Science
StatePublished - Oct 13 2019


  • constitutions
  • empirical methods
  • human rights
  • international law
  • treaties

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